Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Baby Driver

After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail. 

With Baby Driver, Edgar Wright has made a movie about music. About the way that some people require music in their lives. But this film is a movie about obsession: a long drive to a cute romance. A romantic musical disguised as a car-chase thriller. Baby Driver combines the action fantasies of Hot Fuzz with the pop sensibilities of Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Between Wright’s fingers Ansel Elgort’s Baby is charming and beautifully vulnerable. You know in your belly that this life is not made for him. In real life, obsession can be an unflattering trait. In movie characters, however, it is golden, resulting in single-minded protagonists who are crystal clear about what they want, leaving little room for conflict or contradiction to distract them from their goals. Baby’s character reminds me of a slightly mellower version of Ryan Gosling’s stoic Drive. Ansel Elgort proves adorably awkward around women, especially Lily James’ character, Debora. And let me say that ladies have always loved a damaged good guy like Baby, with his childhood trauma, mommy issues, and bad-boy streak.
Now, instead of simply being a weird kid with a savant-like sense for music, he becomes a modern-day Romeo, a watered-down version of the one Leonardo DiCaprio played two decades back. And much as Baz Luhrmann did in that contemporary retelling.

That said, the supporting cast of characters is one of the film’s biggest strengths. Kevin Spacey’s Doc is full of menace, yet oddly paternal and gifted with some of the best one-liners of the film. Partners in crime Buddy and Darling are played by Jon Hamm and Eiza González to just the right side of clichéd comedic perfection. Indeed, she is all acrylic nails and gold hoop earrings, blowing pink bubbles while breathlessly urging Buddy to kill for her. Buddy is an ex-Wall Street guy who ran off with his favourite stripper; with Hamm turning in a third-act performance that is so wonderfully deranged you feel Don Draper spinning in the earth below his feet. Last but not least, Jamie Foxx rounds it out as a nihilistic career thief Bats.
Though, the only real flaw - and let’s deal with that now - lies with the almost-Lynchian Deborah. She is the perfect outlet for Baby’s unspoken desires, but often has little agency of her own which erased the only chances to add depth to her character lost.

The extraordinary thing about Baby Driver is obviously in the first minutes of the remarkable opening sequence. An exquisitely choreographed car chase set-piece, it becomes apparent that this is not a film just base on music. And so, kicks off the glorious final hour: a tightly choreographed work of violence, action, drama and, yes, love. A combination that Wright manages to get just right; a film meticulously, ambitiously laid over the bones of carefully chosen tracks. It is as close to a car-chase opera as you will ever see on screen. In fact, it is not just the action sequences that strike a chord. The opening titles find Baby doing an on-foot coffee run to the beats of Bob & Earl’s Harlem Shuffle, lyrics magically appearing on walls and signs in a scene as seamless as the opening freeway dance from La La Land 

However, Wright's script goes through a lazy stretch as it contrives its complications, but genre conventions carry them past this rough patch, especially since, by this point, we're fully invested in the innocent love story that can't really begin until Baby gets out of trouble. In their scenes together, Elgort's still-unhardened features provide a blank wall upon which James' energetic projections of first love can fall. Finally, Wright manages to stitch together wildly inventive, yet otherwise incongruous scenes that wouldn’t otherwise have any business appearing in the same movie. Typically, directors pick the soundtrack to suit what is happening on screen, but here, Wright’s obsessive hero seems to be create the soundtrack of his own life, using music to decide his fate.

Overall, Baby Driver is one of the most utterly original films in years. An awe-inspiring piece of filmmaking from Edgar Wright that plays out as a musical through the lens of an action thriller. Sweet, funny and utterly original.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Peter Parker, with the help of his mentor Tony Stark, tries to balance his life as an ordinary high school student in NYC while fighting crime as his superhero alter ego Spider-Man when a new threat emerges. 

When Marvel and Sony got together to bring Spider-Man into the MCU, they knew they wanted him to first appear in Captain America: Civil War. A search for the right Peter Parker began. Tom Holland, the young British actor, who was 19 at the time (now 21) had been dancing and acting since childhood, starring in Billy Elliot on the London stage and in films like The Impossible. In him, the filmmakers found a kid who possessed the same infectious enthusiasm as his character.

The movie itself is not that bad, but it is very much down to earth. In fact, there is an aspect of comic-book superhero films that is encoded in the names of the heroes through the age. Like Superman, Batman, Iron Man, or Wonder Woman. They fly, they see through walls, they repel bullets, and they are all grownups. Peter Parker is different, especially in this film, where Tom Holland plays Spider-Man with an anxious deer-in-headlights teen innocence that is so ordinary it seems almost incongruous when he’s referred to as “the Spider-Man.” What he looks (and acts) like is Spider-Boy. Tobey Maguire, who, as far as I can remember seemed boyish at the time, was 26 years old when he first played Peter, but Holland was just 20 when he shot this film, and it makes a difference. It’s almost as if he is his own fanboy.

The film’s novelty is that Spider-Man, though he’s been blessed by Tony Stark an “Avengers apprentice”, barely has a handle on how to use his powers, or what to do with them. To a degree, the film’s novelty works. Though this Peter is such a normal, awkward dude that he is a touch inoffensive. Probably the closest Marvel Universe has come to giving us a superhero who wouldn’t look out of place on the Disney Channel. Holland has a likeable presence, but he is dutiful and imploring rather than captivating.

Though the biracial romance is a step in the right direction, at one point the two are poised in an upside-down kiss that never materialises, which only reminds you of how much the film is feeding off its legacy. It is fine, and true enough to Marvel to make a Spider-Man movie about a young adult, but Spider-Man: Homecoming has an aggressively eager and prosaic Young Adult flavour. Yet coming after the two Andrew Garfield Spider-Man films, which were the definition of super-forgettable skills, the movie is just distinctive enough to connect and become a hit. If so, it could be a key transitional film in the greater cinematic universe of comic-book movies. Homecoming tells its audience: This kid isn’t quite super, he is just like you. Ant-Man did the same thing, but we’ve never seen a character as mythical as Spider-Man portrayed in such a family friendly high school romance way.

Now onto the villain, played by Michael Keaton. He is very much an adult. Keaton brings all the sinister personality you could want to the role, though the movie should have given him more to do. It does, however, provide the character with a good twist, when he shows up where you least expect him.

Finally, midway through the movie, there is a sequence that speeds the picture up in that buzzy spectacular “Hey, I’m watching a Marvel movie!” way. His suit is equipped with devices he is just learning about. Yet the way the movie deals with all of it is strange as it is hard to tell where the suit’s powers leave off and Peter’s begin -  and judging strictly from Homecoming if he even has powers of his own. We all know the spider-bite basics of Spidey’s origin story, but too much rebooting has now resulted in a certain vagueness. As if the film couldn’t be bothered to fill in the blanks. That said, the flying action has a casual beauty in the technicity of it all, and it does get you rooting for Peter. The appeal of this Spider-Boy is all too basic in the superhero world: in his lunge for valour, he keeps falling, and he keeps getting up.

Overall, Tom Holland plays Peter Parker as Marvel’s first Young-Adult superhero. That is the novelty, but also the limitation of this mildly diverting reboot. Indeed, the superhero’s latest outing brings an unfortunate mixture of action and high-school romance. As if somewhere deep within the Marvel laboratories, genetic experiments have been taking place as the DNA of the comic-book action flick is mixed with one of other films. Spider-Man: Homecoming is the labradoodle of Marvel’s breeding programme: part superhero movie, part high-school coming-of-age story.